The residents were also told that cost estimates have been reached for renovations to the long-abandoned Priestley site in their own neighborhood, they say.
RSD officials have not responded to requests to confirm accounts of the meetings this week.
Betty DiMarco, a member of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association’s education committee, reported back to the association Thursday night that she attended the meeting with RSD officials Tuesday, and that they were told about plans to move Sophie B. Wright into the space left empty by Johnson’s closing for two years. Crime around the Johnson campus in a violent section of west Carrollton has long been a concern for both neighbors and school officials, and DiMarco said neighbors asked if high school students might be even more likely to get caught up in it than Johnson’s elementary kids were, but both RSD and police officials have ensured them that student safety will be a top priority.
Patrick Young, an organizer for Orleans Public Education Network, said he also attended the meeting and the transition could be a good one, but that he hopes the Sophie B. Wright administration will collaborate with neighbors.
“The idea is to have a community school that operates to build the entire community,” Young wrote in emailed comments to Uptown Messenger. “Will they allow room for community meetings, adult literacy, family assistance, etc.?”
DiMarco also told the Carrollton group that the RSD presented three architectural options for the Priestly site — which the group wants to see rebuilt and reopened as a neighborhood school as other open-admission campuses move out.
- To renovate the existing 37,000-square-foot, three-story building and adjacent gymnasium would cost about $9 million, the plans show. It would create space for about 18 classrooms, which is fewer than the district would want for a school that has two sections per grade from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, DiMarco says they were told.
- The second option would be to renovate the existing buildings, plus add a new 50,000 square-foot addition that would raise the total cost to about $21.5 million.
- The third option would be to renovate the existing building, demolish the gym, and build a slightly larger 56,000-square-foot addition. That cost would be closer to $22 million, according to the report DiMarco received.
The citywide facilities master plan allocates about $16 million for the Priestley project, if it is feasible, so DiMarco said the neighborhood was told the project was unaffordable. Neighbors — though they love the historic building, designed by architect E. A. Christy — have attached less importance to the building than to the site itself, however, and DiMarco said they plan to keep pressing the RSD for other options that may be affordable.
The entire plan remains speculative, however, as cost overruns on projects that have already started deplete the amount of money remaining for those such as Priestley that are farther down the list of priorities. Young said he believes it could be five years before officials begin moving on the Priestley.
“The Priestley project is about money, and right now there isn’t enough money to build,” Young said.